Norfolk Southern has given a deadline to local officials to purchase a 15-mile stretch of rail line.
Mayor Kim Carter revealed during a question and answer session following her State of the City address Thursday that the railroad sent her an e-mail earlier in the day giving a deadline of the end of this quarter, or March 31.
"They made it very clear they're going to sell it and if they don't sell it to us, they're going to sell it to someone else," Carter said.
Carter said she plans to contact other municipal leaders, county commission chairman Kathy Morgan, representatives from the Water and Sewerage Authority and Newton Trails Path Foundation to discuss the matter.
She said the price of the corridor, running through Covington and Porterdale to just outside Newborn, has gone up, although Norfolk Southern may still honor its original sale price. The price last discussed publicly was $1.8 million. Carter said the increased price could result in whatever group or groups that purchase the rail line contributing $900,000.
The county has a $1.1 million grant in place for purchase. Carter said the property is valuable as it could provide right-of-way for piping water from the planned Bear Creek Reservoir and potentially provide greenspace for walking and biking.
Carter said if the government owns the property, "I know we will not let anything bad happen to our citizens," but added she can't be as confident in what a private group might do.
The Covington City Council previously voted not to pursue the railroad purchase. Morgan has said she does not have a consensus from her board to move forward on the project. Newborn, Oxford, Mansfield, Porterdale and the Trail Path Foundation have joined forces to investigate a purchase.
Former Mayor Sam Ramsey, who initially secured the grant for the project during his term in office, said it's "one of the best real estate investments the city and county could make."
The use may not be determined until years from now; the important thing is securing the property before it gets in someone else's hands, he said.